Educating RAD

March 20, 2007

img_7447.jpgEducation is like potholes…. everyone is an expert. Most articles on education make me chuckle. This is followed by head scratching until I am distracted by something worthwhile to photograph.

First, most of us have some form of education. Been there, done that. We have a reference to work with to judge any kind of claim.

So a claim I hear from libertarians (normally American libertarians) is that public schools don’t work and that school vouchers should be issued to allow the free market to do its magic. My gut reaction is that this is a false claim and after a quick chuckle I try to understand why. It may be that, as a product of the Canadian public school system, backing this claim implies that I’m dumber than I should be. I think we naturally object to claims that logically imply that we suck.

Beyond the “I’m not as think as you dumb I am” defence, I think libertarian (i.e. free market) principles do not apply to a handful of special cases. Policies involving children, with education being a subset, are of this type. Now I’m not saying that education vouchers are evil and that their adoption will result in the degradation of society as we know it. I’m just saying that when it comes to policies involving children, my free-market-is-best assumption is not automatically applied.

A second type of idea that I hear is what I call a “Nurture Assumption” claim. The “Nurture Assumption” is an idea by Judith Rich Harris that is outlined in her book with the same name. The assumption is that a child’s personality is influenced by the home environment (i.e. siblings, parents, and parenting methods) and by the school environment (i.e. teachers and curriculum). Judith Rich Harris claims the Nurture Assumption is false. Fifty percent of our personality traits are the result of genes (independent of household/family environment) and fifty percent are the result of socialization… zero from authority figures (parents and school). The fifty percent not from genes is due totality to peer socialization.

So all types of people make the false Nurture Assumption when applying their own belief systems to education. Many progressives, for instance, dedicate their lives to promoting a curriculum that teaches evolution and prevents the mention of intelligent design. We fret about zero tolerance policies, prayer in the classroom, and over-reaching political correctness. To quote Johnny Rotten <or fill in your favorite rebel>, “WHO CARES”. Kids will absorb this information, but the opinions they form will be the result of peer dynamics. Its not the medium, its not the message, its peer groups baby. Peer groups.